Last week, my jaw hit the floor when I received an e-mail asking me for career advice.
“My internship is almost over and I’m trying to get the most from my experience by meeting with some of the global communicators with fascinating jobs. I was wondering if I can call you for a bit tomorrow to informally discuss your background, your job, and how you got here.”
People ask me for advice all the time, normally about food or fashion. I love what I do for a living, but I didn’t realize it was enviable enough to put me in a position where someone might ask how I got there. To be honest, sometimes I’m not quite sure how I got here. It feels like I woke up one morning and suddenly I was 3000 miles from home, with a Virginia voter registration card, a 401K, $50,000 in student loan debt, and a closet full of awesome clothing. Going to graduate school while working full-time can do that to you–it’s like a 2 year roofie.
As I think about it more and continue to watch so many of my friends struggle to find solid ground in the working world, I realize that I’m definitely not the worst person to ask for advice. Without further ado, my words of wisdom for the career-hopeful and newly-employed:
1. Forget Your Dream Job
Stop waiting for “the one.” There’s a very good chance you don’t know yourself very well, so don’t limit yourself to what you think you know. Find something that suits your skills, your talents, and your passion, not just your interests. Just look at House, he may not give a damn about the health of his patients, but he loves solving the puzzles of the human body. Given that you’re not yet set down a defined career path, you still have plenty of time to try out new and different things. Worst case, at least you still have a paycheck while looking for something else to come along.
2. Don’t Suck Up
Sucking up is a great way to encourage all of your coworkers to hate you, while also demonstrating to your superiors that you don’t have a mind of your own. In my experience (or at least in my theory), the best way to get yourself a real gold star in the workplace is respectfully disagreeing, and expressing self-confidence and conviction. Especially with the toughest bosses, being able to hold your own, demonstrating critical thinking skills, foreseeing (their) possible missteps, and having the guts to put someone in their place can go a long way.
3. Act Up
They say you should “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I think a similar principle applies for your work performance. Conduct yourself as though you have the job you want, and bring ideas to the table that will get you there. Don’t be limited by your job description.
4. Be Lazy
I always think its funny when people say I’m a hard worker. I’m not. I’m a smart worker, and I’m a smart worker because I’m extraordinarily lazy. I like to be efficient not for the sake of efficiency, but because the alternative is a waste of time, money, and energy. Sometimes investing a little extra work and energy up front means you can be so much lazier later. The shortest route between two points is a straight line–exploit the straight line. Be lazy, be efficient.
5. Show Up, then Leave
Show up, on time, even early, and make your presence known. I don’t mean have a parade when you show up for an interview, or constantly talk about how early you got into the office, but do something to stand out. Be proactive in meetings. Be more than a seat warmer. Share a good idea, baked goods, a joke or funny story. Leave your mark on every room you enter, because if they don’t remember you, they won’t miss you when you’re gone. Conversely, when possible, leave. Don’t burn yourself out. When you leave the office and have down time, take care of yourself. You’re no good to anyone if you have no mental energy left. This is also called “work hard, play hard,” but as I said, don’t work hard–work smart!
There you have it. Want to be successful in life? Just remember: forget your dream job, don’t suck up, act up, be lazy, show up, and leave! Also, I’m completely unqualified to provide any advice whatsoever, so I’m asking you to leave a comment, answering:
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?